Although libraries have dedicated much of their time to scanning and cataloguing their materials for online access, both the expense and time of such projects have prevented many documents from being readily available.
Yet, in many cases, these documents have been scanned, copied or photographed by someone, somewhere. Virtually every professor, graduate student and author maintains major private caches of these materials from their own research. Biographers have scores of letters, pictures and ephemera. Architects and architectural historians have photographs of buildings from around the world. Scholars of literature have scanned diaries and manuscripts for insights into the writing process of those they study.
“This ‘hidden archive’ likely rivals existing online collections,” says Dan Cohen, director of the Center for History and New Media (CHNM). “We asked: What if there was a way to expose and share this tremendous hidden archive with scholars from around the globe?”
And now there is. CHNM has joined forces with the Internet Archive on a project funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to provide what could potentially be the world’s largest structured archival and access environment for scholarly material.
Introduced last year as open-source software that works within the popular Firefox web browser, the CHNM’s Zotero stores references and notes in the same way that other citation managers do. However, what makes Zotero unique from similar tools is its intuitive, iTunes-like interface and the fact that it runs in the web browser, allowing it to sense, record and share scholarly information on the web.
Now Zotero is teaming up with the Internet Archive to provide a seamless system for archiving, public sharing and collaborating within the scholarly community.
Under the new partnership, scholars will be able to easily drag and drop documents into the “Zotero Commons” and, after filling out legal information that ensures the document is in public domain, have the document uploaded to be searchable and accessible to anyone in the world.
A major incentive for scholars to participate in this project is that the Internet Archive will provide them with free optical character recognition (OCR) — that is, a transcription of the words on each scan — for documents that are donated, a tremendous benefit that will allow them to search and organize their own collection.
“Most scholars have not yet figured out how to take full advantage of the digitized riches suddenly available on their computers,” says Cohen. “The abundance of digital documents is actually overwhelming to some. Moreover, the major advantage of digital research – the ability to scan large masses of text quickly – is often unavailable to scholars who’ve done their own scanning or copying of texts. Yet after uploading to Zotero Commons, they will be able to search their own library very easily.”
Another function of the project will be the availability for scholars to share documents with a smaller, defined and secure community, allowing for easier collaboration across long distances.
The initial functionality of Zotero Commons will be rolled out in 2008.